Shame by Karin Alvtegen

ShameShame by Karin Alvtegen

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This is the second book I’ve read by Karin Alvtegen, and I did not enjoy it as much as her novel Missing.
I had several problems with Shame. First of all, the two main characters are hard to like. Monika is a doctor who carries an extreme sense of guilt over something that occurred in her past. Because of this, she believes she needs to subjugate herself, and denies herself romance and friendship. The second character, Maj-Brit, is a morbidly obese woman who has chosen to remain housebound, and who torments the social workers who come to help her by being saying mean things to them. Maj-Brit also has a shameful secret from her childhood, one which, we are led to believe, is responsible for her failed marriage, her weight problem, and her bitterness towards everyone around her.
It was difficult to read a novel in which the main characters were so full of self-pity and self-flagellation. I understand that this novel is obviously exploring the nature of shame, but on the other hand, many people have difficult childhoods, and don’t use that as an excuse to brood for their entire lives.
Furthermore, some of the descriptions of Maj-Brit’s past, in a fanatical religious household, seemed a bit far-fetched. The abuse that Maj-Brit undergoes was challenging to read about.
Given all this “shame,” the supporting characters in Alvtegen’s tale are all decent, well-adjusted human beings. This makes it even more difficult to empathize with the extreme reactions that Monika and Maj-Brit exhibit to their pasts.
Ultimately, Shame ends on an uplifting and healing note. But for this reader, the hopeful ending was too little, too late. Overall, the novel was a definite downer.
As a final note, for those who are interested in reading Scandinavian crime fiction, Shame does not exactly fit that genre. It is not a mystery, nor does it involve police. It is more of a character study. Also, Karin Alvtegen’s novels are light on description and sense of place. If you are looking to read a book that makes you feel like you are in Sweden, you will be disappointed. Karin Alvtegen is clearly a fluent writer, but due to the subject matter and lack of description in Shame, it was not a book that I enjoyed.

View all my reviews

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